The Coastal Star

Boca Raton: City decides not to privatize garbage pickup

By Mary Hladky

City Council members have rejected outsourcing residential garbage collection and recycling services.

City staff explored the option of contracting with Waste Pro because Boca Raton faces rising costs to provide the services, including the need to buy more garbage trucks and to build a larger garage to house them.

Another issue is that the city pays its sanitation workers less than a private company would, and as a result is having trouble hiring and retaining employees.

Waste Pro convinced city staff that the company would provide better service at less cost.

But residents, sanitation workers and union officials who spoke at the May 29 City Council meeting pleaded to keep city trash collection in-house.

“I love working for Boca and the residents love our service we give them. Going private is not the way,” said a 19-year sanitation veteran. His voice broke as he added, “I love this job, I do.”

“You will not get the same service,” said a 30-year employee. “Please keep Boca, Boca.”

“They do quality work,” said resident Steven Griffith. “I don’t see any reason why we should all of a sudden privatize. … We have a good thing. Let’s try to keep it going.”

Council members quickly made what Andrea O’Rourke said was the biggest decision to come before the council.

Mayor Scott Singer summed up their consensus: “Don’t mess with success.”

But he conceded that the city now will have to find a way to pay for rising collection costs and better sanitation worker pay.

“The city will rise to that challenge,” he said.

Council members agreed that the amount the city would save by privatizing was not enough to offset the loss of control over the quality of service provided to residents.

And they did not want to give up bragging rights that Boca Raton is a “full-service” city that does not outsource, even though most Florida cities have privatized trash collection.

The cost of the city providing the service over the next 15 years would total between $221.3 million and $233.2 million, while the cost of privatizing would range between $216.8 million and $220.4 million, city staff projected.

While the cost difference was not substantial, Waste Pro would have provided other benefits.

Garbage collection would be six days a week, rather than the city’s four. Waste Pro would collect on every holiday except Christmas and New Year’s, while the city has 11 holiday exceptions.

Residents can contact the sanitation department only by phone, while Waste Pro offers phone, website and app communications. The city would have to buy software costing as much as $1 million to match Waste Pro’s online service.

The city’s collection vehicles are up to 7 years old and break down frequently, while Waste Pro’s vehicles are 3 years old or less. Waste Pro would have paid the city $2 million for its vehicles.

City staff talked to many other cities that use Waste Pro, and got good reviews.

“Everybody we have talked to talks very well of the services provided by Waste Pro,” said Assistant City Manager Mike Woika.

City residents will pay more for trash collection and recycling whether or not the city contracted with Waste Pro.

But the higher cost, possibly about 3 percent per year, will start soon now that the city will continue to provide the service. Under Waste Pro, those increases would have been put off for four to seven years.

The council’s decision does not affect trash pickup for commercial businesses, which use private haulers, including Waste Pro. 

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